for this game

Closing run lifts Tennessee into NCAA title game

Apr 2, 2007 - 5:19 AM CLEVELAND (Ticker) -- Tennessee waited a year to pay North Carolina back and got even in a big way.

The Lady Volunteers completely shut down the high-powered Tar Heels in the final eight minutes and rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to emerge with a dramatic 56-50 victory in the NCAA Tournament national semifinal.

Candace Parker had 14 points and 13 rebounds and Nicky Anosike added 14 and seven as Tennessee (33-3) closed the game with a 20-2 run over the final 8:02 to earn its 12th trip to the national championship game. The Lady Vols will face Rutgers for the NCAA title on Tuesday night.

"To be honest with you, we just did not want to go home," Parker said in explaining the comeback. "I mean, we were just looking back at each other and just saying all the stuff that we have been through to get to this point and not seize the moment would just be a total waste.

And we just really wanted it. ... And when you have that, it's hard not to fight for your team."

The most storied program in women's basketball with six national titles and 17 Final Four appearances, Tennessee was eliminated by North Carolina in the regional final in 2006 on this very same floor at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Tar Heels appeared on the verge of doing it again, seemingly seizing control of the game when senior point guard Ivory Latta converted a three-point play and Erlana Larkins scored inside for their biggest lead of the game, 48-36, with 8:16 to play.

"At the eight-minute mark I basically said, 'We don't want to go home,'" Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt said. "They didn't want to go home. And I said, 'We're not leaving here without a national championship.'"

In a stunning turnabout of events, North Carolina didn't score a field goal the rest of the way and Tennessee, behind Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle, scored 10 straight points to pull even at 48-46 with 4:00 left.

After Latta converted two free throws - the Tar Heels' last points - with 3:43 to play, Anosike scored five straight points to put the Lady Vols ahead for good, 51-50, with 1:44 left.

Tennessee put the finishing touches on the victory by converting 5-of-6 foul shots in the final 35 seconds to avenge a 70-57 loss at North Carolina on December 3.

"I started thinking about last year and I was like, I don't want to feel this way," Lady Vols forward Sidney Spencer said. "I can not sit here and watch them celebrate, this being my senior year. So we just grinded it out and got to the free-throw line where we knocked down the crucial ones at the end to win it."

Tennessee prevailed despite shooting a miserable 27 percent (17-of-63) for the game, marking the lowest shooting percentage for a winning team in Final Four history.

"I felt like we should have won the game," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "We have never lost to a team when they shot 27 percent. I feel like defensively we did the job when you hold a team to 27 percent.

"I'm really disappointed. And really proud of my team."

Latta and Rashanda McCants scored 13 points each for the Tar Heels (34-4), who committed a season-high 29 turnovers.

"I could just say they played aggressive defense," Latta said. "We were trying to get the ball to Erlana in the post. They were definitely fronting her and double-teaming her and they just play aggressive defense."

Just as costly to North Carolina was losing both LaToya Pringle and Camille Little to fouls, as the duo had taken turns defensively on Wade Trophy winner Parker, who finished just 3-of-12 from the floor.

"I thought they did a great job," Hatchell said of Pringle and Little. "The best offense she (Parker) had was the foul-line offense. So I thought we did a great job on her defensively."

With Parker and Latta each playing limited minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, Tennessee held a 22-21 lead at the break.

Parker had a three-point play to push the lead to 27-21 before Latta hit a pair of 3-pointers to ignite a 12-0 run that gave the Tar Heels a 33-27 advantage.

North Carolina kept extending the margin until the final surge by the Lady Vols, who scored 12 of their final 16 points at the stripe. The Tar Heels finished 20-of-26 while Tennessee was just 6-of-8.

"Anytime you go to the free-throw line twice as much or more your chances are pretty good," Larkins said.